Forty-five years after Pele played his last game, it’s hard to imagine modern soccer, or Brazil, without him.
Geovana Sarmento, 17, waited in the three-hour line to view his body as it lay in repose at the stadium where he played for most of his career. She came with her father, who was wearing a Brazil shirt with Pele’s name.
“I am not a Santos fan, neither is my father. But this guy invented Brazil’s national team. He made Santos stronger, he made it big, how could you not respect him? He is one of the greatest people ever, we needed to honour him,” she said.
Pele will be buried Tuesday in the city where he grew up, became famous, and helped make into a global capital of soccer. A Catholic Mass will be celebrated at the Vila Belmiro stadium before his casket is ushered through the streets of Santos to a nearby cemetery.
Brazil’s newly inaugurated President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who was sworn in for a third term Sunday after a comeback victory, paid his respects at Vila Belmiro.
The soccer great died Thursday at age 82 after a battle with cancer. He was the only player ever to win three World Cups.
Thousands of mourners, including high school students and supreme court justices, filed Monday past the body of Pele on the century-old field where he made his hometown team one of Brazil’s best. Pele’s coffin, draped in the flags of Brazil and the Santos FC football club, was placed on the midfield area of Vila Belmiro.
Lula arrived at 9 a.m. and took part in a Catholic Mass as fans continued to walk past the coffin, and expressed his condolences to Pele’s widow, Marcia Aoki, holding her head between his hands. He left 30 minutes later.
The storied 16,000-seat stadium was surrounded by mourning fans, and covered with Pele-themed decorations inside. Fans coming out of the stadium said they’d waited three hours in line, standing under a blazing sun.
Caio Zalke, 35, an engineer, wore a Brazil shirt as he waited in line. “Pele is the most important Brazilian of all time. He made soccer important for Brazil and he made Brazil important for the world,” he said.
Source: The globe and Mail